The Sugar Quill
Author: Ananke  Story: In the Bathroom  Chapter: In the Darkness
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Draco Malfoy was bored

He was bored.

Tweedledum and Tweedledumber were in Snape’s detention again – ostensibly to help them improve their Defence marks; he almost smiled at that – try as he might, Snape wouldn’t drag any information out of those who simply knew nothing. Pansy and the girls had disappeared into their dormitory – as far as he could tell, to try on some new clothes Pansy’s mother had sent her with the morning post. Zabini was off to somewhere, most probably to another meeting of that ridiculous Slug Club thing – how anyone could say this without laughing was beyond him – and Nott... was Nott. The seventh-years were apparently having some very important tests within the next few days, and everyone was busy studying and comparing notes – Snape had made clear at the beginning of the year that he expected the Slytherin students to obtain only Os and Es in the NEWTs. (Theoretically, he would hold no power over them once they passed the NEWTs – but no student was particularly willing to test that theory. They still remembered Flint.) That left Bastis, Millicent’s cat, as his only companion – and even she was now occupying herself with bringing her gleaming black fur to perfection.

His work was going well – indeed, he expected everything to be over by Christmas – and, given the detention, he had decided that he well deserved an evening off, to catch up with his neglected social responsibilities. It was just his luck that this was the one evening when everyone else was busy with their own matters. Usually, he had difficulty getting himself rid of Pansy and her cohorts, or some of his Quidditch team mates who apparently believed that if they pestered him enough, they would convince him to return to the team. And, if everything else failed, there were still the piles of homework to do. Today, even that disappointed.

He was bored, indeed.

Suddenly he rose to his feet, quickly enough to capture the attention of the cat lying in front of the fireplace. By the time she returned to her chore, feigning disinterest in what had happened the moment before, he was gone.

 

The bathroom was, as he recalled, on the first floor of the castle. He covered the distance from the Slytherin dungeon quickly, not willing to get himself caught – detentions were, if anything, a dreadful nuisance. Once he opened the door, ignoring the out-of-order sign, and saw the inside of the place – filthy was decidedly an understatement – he almost turned back. Really, what did Filch think he was being paid for?

Against his better judgment, he entered the dim, damp room, taking care to close the door behind; his steps resounded eerily against the walls of the room as he walked from stall to stall, trying to find the ghost. By the time he had gotten to the last one, he was sure she wasn’t in the bathroom; she would undoubtedly have heard him, otherwise. Evidently, she had decided to float, drift, fly, or whatever what it was she was doing, to somewhere else as well. Even she was acting up on him that day –

Giving vent to his anger, he kicked the pipes under the nearest sink. As though she were a genie rising from a bottle in response to its owner’s call, the ghost emerged from the outlet of the sink beside it.

“Careful with that one,” she said, gesturing at the sink he had just kicked, “it opens.” Then, she added, curiously, “Did I scare you?”

The room became completely dark when the miserable flames of the candle stubs, which had fallen out of their holders when he had knocked them over, finally sputtered into nothingness, extinguished by the water on the floor. He moved his wand, conjuring a small light – he knew that some people in his year still had trouble even with the easiest nonverbal spells, but he was certainly not among those.

Still, he should perhaps owl Borgin and Burke’s to see if they still had on sale that old Hand of Glory that Father had refused to buy him a couple of years ago. It would be useful for his nightly forays into the school; and he was almost certain that it would pass Filch’s Secrecy Sensors –

“No, not at all,” he replied at last, in a deliberately leisured tone. Attempting to change the subject he asked, clutching to the first topic at hand, “It opens? Why? What for?”

He bent to examine the sink more closely. In his attempt to repair the Cabinet, he had read a lot about the Arithmantic theory of spatial spells, and so he knew, more or less, what the telltale signs he should be looking for were.

The ghost, now hovering above the sinks, shrugged. “How should I know?” she said, clearly disinterested. “Nobody ever tells me anything in this school.”

She drifted a bit away from him, to the dirty, cracked mirror hanging above the sinks, where she started to play with her hair. “Don’t you think this light agrees with me? Makes me more – mature? More of a – a someone to be taken seriously?”

“Not really, it doesn’t.” It was true that she looked a bit different in the spotlight of the spell, and the deep, sharp shadows it evoked – more ghostly perhaps, in a way – but he quite doubted that anything could make anyone take her seriously. And the utter foolishness of the question irritated him. “Where were you, anyway?”

“Oh. In the prefects’ bathroom – I returned here as soon as I heard you calling me –”

His irritation doubled. He turned away from her and crouched to look at the piping below the sink. “In the prefects’ bathroom? Trying to catch Potter?”

“He comes there?” she asked, clearly oblivious to the irony. “I’ve never seen him there – not since the last time, that is, two years ago –”

From underneath the sink, he answered, “Perhaps he’s scared to meet you again.”

She was clearly fighting tears; even not seeing her, he could tell it by the sound of her voice. “That wasn’t nice.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he agreed absent-mindedly, rising to his feet and casting a quick cleaning spell on himself. If there was any opening here, it was very well hidden – the only thing he had managed to find was dirt, and that in quantities even larger than he had expected; the place was definitely not fit for the heir of his family. It was almost a metaphor of all that was wrong with Hogwarts under Dumbledore: a distinct lack of order, to begin with. “Are you sure it opens? How?”

“I don’t know,” she said dismissively, floating down to his eye level. “The last time, it appeared to involve a lot of hissing.”

“Hissing?” This piqued up his interest. “As in – Parseltongue?”

“Parseltongue?” There wasn’t the slightest hint of recognition in her voice; and only the slightest one of interest as she asked, “What’s that supposed to be?”

“Just how old were you when you died?” Before he had a chance to add that it was a rhetorical question, she replied.

“Fourteen.”

“Oh. That explains a lot.” Not her lack of knowledge, perhaps; but her lack of restraint, certainly. From what he remembered of Pansy at fourteen years of age, at times he had felt as if he would have had a more sensible conversation with a Janus Thickey ward patient.

“How did you die, exactly? Careless as the teachers here may be,” he snorted, remembering the Hippogriff – and the Blast-Ended Skrewts, a memory which, he knew, would still be with him for many years to come – “the majority of the students do nonetheless seem to manage to survive long enough to finish their NEWTs?”

Suddenly, and quite inexplicably, the ghost grew suspicious. She floated to the nearest stall, where she seated herself on the tank of a toilet. Looking at her feet, she asked guardedly, “Why should I tell you?”

Why should she, indeed? Was it, by any chance, that she was her favourite subject of conversation – of course, she was no different in that regard from the majority of people since the beginning of time – manus manum lavat, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and all that –

No – he wasn’t going to allow her to make him beg for her story. It was, admittedly, mildly interesting how someone went about dying at Hogwarts – just not interesting enough; and he didn’t know what could be interesting enough. How did he come across the unhappy idea that she could tell him anything worthy of his note in the first place?

He was halfway through dismantling the spells on the door when he recalled something – something that she had told him during their previous meeting, something which he hadn’t even known he had remembered, seeing as he had barely paid attention to her words at the time –

He returned to the stall where she was sitting, not-so-quietly sobbing. Not really willing to enter – although, to tell the truth, his robes would already be useless and in need a complete rewash after the night – he asked, “This is about Potter again, isn’t it?”

No answer came from inside the stall, but the sobbing seemed to calm down somewhat.

“The last time we met, you told me that he asked you how you died, and then left you behind and went off to save some redhead –”

Suddenly, he realised something which had been nagging him for some time now, ever since he had mentioned ParseltonguePotter was a Parselmouth! He continued, taking a not-quite wild guess – “He was the one who opened the sink, wasn’t he? That’s how you know how to do it?”

Again, she said nothing, and he was beginning to wonder if he should perhaps stop wasting his time on the miserable thing – but then, at last, she cautiously nodded.

“Well, for your information – I’m not Potter, whereof I distinctly remember having already notified you; I abhor redheads” – he mentally shuddered: all too often, the word was tantamount to Weasel – “and –” he hesitated for a moment, suddenly aware that the third argument – that he simply wasn’t the type to rescue damsels in distress, preferring to live his life in accordance with Salazar Slytherin’s finest tenets – wouldn’t probably go over well, given the audience – “I don’t speak Parseltongue,” he finished lamely, annoyed at himself for not having been able to think of something more adequate and less humiliating than admitting to the weakness.

But admitting to it was, apparently, precisely what made the ghost leave her sulk – and just as well, because now that he knew that somehow, the manner of her death had been once important to Potter, he was slowly becoming interested in it himself. The ghost finally stopped crying and asked, tentatively, “So you really only want to know – because – because of me?”

He shrugged casually, letting her form her own, predictably erroneous, opinion. Then, he propped himself against the wall dividing the stalls – he decided to forgo the laundering of the robes, and simply throw them out – Twillfit and Tatting’s surely still had his measures.

Unsurprisingly enough, the next moment he found himself treated to what was surely intended to be a dramatised, and came out as utterly ridiculous, account of the event in question.

And as the ghost told her tale, pieces of a riddle several years old – a riddle he had never solved, first because he had been unaware of some very important facts; and then, because when he had learnt the facts, the riddle itself had ceased to be important, so that he had forgotten about it altogether – started to emerge from his memory, and to fit one another at last. Things mentioned in passing by Father and by Aunt Bellatrix; things not mentioned at all, yet obvious, like the loss of Father’s seat on the board of governors of the school – and the sudden and unexplained end of the affair of the Chamber of Secrets, conjoined with the equally sudden and unexplained winning of the House Cup by Gryffindor in his second year –

“– and that’s how I died!” the ghost finished gleefully.

There were things he would never learn, of course. He would never know how the Dark Lord had managed to open the Chamber for the second time – because it must have been the Chamber (he now understood why Filch was keeping the bathroom in such a dreadful state: on Dumbledore’s orders, obviously) – from without the school. He would never know how Potter had closed the Chamber again. But the most important thing he now understood – that it was he, the Dark Lord, the rightful heir of Slytherin, who had first opened the Chamber after the millennial hiatus, and that he intended it to use it against his enemies, as Slytherin himself had –

And the ghost must have been the Dark Lord’s victim. Perhaps his first.

“Well, Myrtle –” he said quietly when he broke out of his reverie; half-smiling, putting special emphasis on her name, “– will it console you to know that you have died because you have incurred the wrath of a very powerful wizard, indeed?”

As has Father.

The thought came unbidden, unwanted, out of its own accord.

He rushed out of the stall and back to the sinks; he felt like vomiting. But then, he saw his own face in the mirror –

No.

No. Father had him, and he wouldn’t fail. He would pay the ransom in blood, in Dumbledore’s blood, and he would return the family to the Dark Lord’s grace. He would prove himself useful, he would not be useless and in the way, like that fool Diggory, or that pathetic creature behind him – well, come to think of it, Father had mentioned that the first time the Chamber had been opened, some student had been killed – some Mudblood student –

The ghost, beaming with pride at the news, appeared next to him; finally, she noticed his changed expression. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Nothing that could even remotely concern you, Mudblood!”

He left the bathroom and the ghost wailing in it in complete darkness.

 

No one but the cat, still grooming herself in front of the fireplace, took notice of him as he returned to the dungeon.

On the following day, due to a simple yet cardinal mistake, the shattered threads of the spell on the Cabinet that he had been so carefully trying to merge collapsed completely. He was now faced with a task much more difficult than his initial one. He would have to recreate the spell from scratch.

//
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